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About Schmidt | Review

Noticing the Fine-Print.

Payne redefines retirement with Winnebago’s, late-night infomercials and a splendid Jack Nicholson.

There are many comedies out there which are labeled as ‘funny’, but unfortunately these films depend on dialogue-driven silly puns, slapstick facial reactions and awkward body motions. What I feel works best in the comedy genre is the type of humor that doesn’t feel forced, which is usually found with the more banal moments of life and witnessed in films like Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love and director Alexander Payne’s current follow-up to Election.

About Schmidt is about that moment in time where you are witness to how your life is a dissolute existence, as is the case for one now-retired life-insurance salesman Warren Schmidt (Jack Nicholson- The Pledge). So what does one do when life has come to a sudden halt? After his boring wife bits the dust, he tries to manage the life of his adult daughter Jeannie (Hope Davis-Hearts in Atlantis) and ultimately stop her from marrying her mullet-head pyramid scheme water-mattress salesman boyfriend Randall (Dermot Mulroney-Lovely & Amazing). Payne gives us a not so-complex character inside the complex coming to a cross roads in life moment, where retirement is the first step to an eventual mental death and his wife’s passing tells him that statistically he doesn’t have much time either. Payne who uses a nice range of multi-angled and shots from above close-ups that capture the protagonist’s voyage of self-discovery by way of a chromed toaster box silver Winnebago and which literally comes alive in his one-way exchanges with a support a sponsor a child five-year-old Ndugu from Tanzania.

Nicholson ages and he only gets better at his craft, and it might have took some big balls to be placed against someone who actually resembles his age, I guess the actor-a skirt-chaser in the real world sacrificed the “image” for the role of deep that gives us Warren as a realistic as possible. Nicholson’s sincere, non-perfect character draws the viewer in, and the Dear Ndugu narration will bring about many exploding moments of laughter. What Nicholson makes accessible is that fear of the unknown mixed up with the unchecked anger showing the complexities that occur in the growing old stages of one’s life. What is genius aside from the cast of funny, zany characters such as Kathy bates in a small role which shows us her balls and her wrinkled body, are the ideas, basically how middle-America is captured and how it is portrayed. Payne combines the perfect mix of comedy and drama with what I call ‘perfect pacing’ one scene captures the entire sense of the picture, when Warren is looking up at the time clock minutes away from retirement. Empty spaces, pauses in dialogue and the banalities of life are comically and intelligently timed to provide a match to the space of Nebraska and the character’s journey of reflection and dealings of loneliness.

There are many ‘moments’ in this film, from the realization of an old affair, to the things we take notice of during the most horrible times in our lives to the this is my birthplace tire-store scene which make this a funny commentary about this thing called life. After the smartly satirical films of Citizen Ruth and Election, Payne’s ‘Schmidt’ comes off as a film with a little more maturity, includes a more grown-up portrait of a main character whose got more psychological dimensions to it which perhaps provides the bigger laughs for the short-comings of Americana. Come abroad this film trip, where every moment is poignantly true.

Rating 4 stars

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Eric Lavallée is the founder, CEO, editor-in-chief, film journalist, and critic at IONCINEMA.com, established in 2000. A regular at Sundance, Cannes, and Venice, Eric holds a BFA in film studies from the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. In 2013, he served on the narrative competition jury at the SXSW Film Festival. He was an associate producer on Mark Jackson’s "This Teacher" (2018 LA Film Festival, 2018 BFI London). In 2022, he was a New Flesh Juror for Best First Feature at the Fantasia International Film Festival. Current top films for 2023 include The Zone of Interest (Glazer), Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell (Pham Thien An), Totem (Lila Avilés), La Chimera (Alice Rohrwacher), All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt (Raven Jackson).

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